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The future of open source



Even Linus Torvalds, the Finnish-born programmer behind the Linux open source operating system, has to earn a living somehow and by all means he’s pulling down a good living as the head of Open Source Development Labs. It’s not a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs living by any stretch of the imagination at a reported $200K a year, but then Torvalds has always been characterized by his sincere commitment to developing computers, software and the Internet for the betterment of man rather than any desire to line his own pockets.

He truly believes in the concept of open source – a collaborative network of programmers that continually develop and improve on software, under just one overriding rule: whatever is created using the Linux kernel must be shared in the Linux community.

The result is an operating platform and software library that is secure, stable, free to use (with some notable exceptions) and continually updated and upgraded. However, Linux users still only account for about a quarter of a percent of all desktop computer users, although businesses have been quicker to adopt Linux-based platforms to run their server systems – approximately 25 per cent of the world’s servers, according to a recent count.

Companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems early on realized the potential of Linux, even if those benefits are more elusive for end users, and are now licensing their own Linux-based products for profit. Two months ago Oracle Corporation made headlines when they started to acquire smaller companies that specialized in open source development, prompting industry watchers to predict that Linux could become the server standard. And what then?

Balancing the need to profit with the need to keep open source open is Torvalds’s responsibility to some degree, and some open source faithful are concerned that the original free and easy concept has been co-opted by big money corporations. If anything the trend to create private software using open source is accelerating.

Now Novell Corporation is gearing up to launch a Linux-based desktop operating system that will arguably compete directly with Microsoft’s Windows operating system. There are two components, the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, which Novell claims to be user-friendly, secure, visually stunning, and all but impossible to crash. The Desktop version, if it lives up to its billing, could be the first truly viable Linux alternative to Windows for the average home and small business user.

Enterprise will be available in August (a preview is available now at www.novell.com, beating Microsoft’s Vista operating system to the market by at least several months.

Novell is also prepared to back Enterprise with business software like spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software by encouraging developers to come up with programs that work with SUSE.